Cost of living

Soaring fuel prices prompt new call for tax rethink

Petrol and diesel prices have soared in recent days (pic: Terry Murden)

Labour is again calling on the Treasury to scrap its National Insurance tax hike and impose a one-off windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies to help those dealing with a cost of living crisis.

New analysis by Labour has revealed that the average family is facing an annual rise of £386 on the cost of petrol alone. The price of petrol in Edinburgh at the weekend touched 164p a litre and diesel 176p.

The figures come as oil and gas producers, including Shell and BP, took in billions in soaring profits, with Shell hailing a “momentous year”.

Petrol prices have rocketed in recent days as the Russian invasion of Ukraine has disrupted the market, though oil shed $4 a barrel overnight.

Labour says its plans would put £600 back in the pockets of families struggling to pay bills, partly by taxing the energy firms – despite the industry again producing figures showing that higher taxes would reduce investment in renewable energy.

Louise Haigh, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, said: “The Conservatives could help working people being hit hard by soaring prices – instead they’ve rejected the choice of a one-off windfall tax on oil and gas producers raking in billions.

“And to add insult to injury, within weeks they want to clobber families with a huge tax hike.

“Labour would put working people first. Our plan would help households through this crisis with up to £600 cut off energy bills, funded by one-off windfall tax on the booming profits of oil and gasproducers.

“And we would turbocharge our transition to clean transport so never again are the British people left so exposed to unstable foreign oil.”

Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) argues that a windfall tax risk heaping a supply crisis on top of a price crisis and may make matter worse.

The trade association, whose 400 members embrace established industries like oil, gas and offshore wind, plus emerging technologies like hydrogen production and CO2 capture, all operating in UK waters, said calls for a windfall tax offered consumers false hope – and ran the risk of damaging the UK’s own energy industry.

Deirdre Michie, chief executive of OEUK, said: “We recognise global prices are having a severe impact on consumers.

Deirdre Michie: stark reminder

“The UK gets 73% of its total energy from gas and oil. About 24m homes are heated by gas which also generates 42% of our electricity.

“So, the Europe-wide gas shortages are a stark reminder of why the UK should safeguard its own offshore sector – otherwise we risk heaping a supply crisis on top of an existing price crisis.”

She added: “Financial stability is an essential part of that. The calls for a windfall tax are based on one year’s profit announcements by oil and gas companies. But oil and gas companies operate on a global scale and produce globally-traded commodities with volatile prices – so some years see them making losses while in others they make profits.

“For example, the global rise in gas prices mean the profits of some energy suppliers rose sharply in 2021. But, in 2020 the sales slump caused by the pandemic meant many made big losses. It shows that, if you look at the industry over any single year you would get a misleading picture. The best way to look at industry profits is over several years, averaging out the highs and lows.”

The industry says Labour is failing to take into that the oil companies work in a global industry and that an increase in UK production taxes would only tax the profits made in the UK which have been in decline for a long time.

“The latest ONS figures on ‘Profitability of UK Companies’ show that the annual rate of return was just 2.4% for companies exploring or producing oil and gas on the UKCS when averaged from 2014-2020,” said Ms Michie.

“This decline in North Sea profits is because the UK Continental Shelf is moving into a new era. The most accessible oil and gas resources have been exploited and those remaining tend to be more technically challenging and less profitable.

“This has coincided with a long-term decline in prices, over that longer period. These factors have discouraged investment in the North Sea meaning capital expenditure has fallen by more than 90% since 2014.”

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She said if that lack of investment in platforms, pipelines and other infrastructure, were to continue, then production would decline in coming years – just when the UK most needs its own oil and gas supplies.

“All this can be reversed – the UK’s surrounding seas have enough oil and gas to help support the nation through the transition to Net Zero, provided they get the right level of investment. We know the long-term future lies in low carbon energies and they will need investment too.

“It means a windfall tax would actually be the worst thing for consumers because it would discourage energy companies from making all those vital investments. That would reduce our energy security and make us even more dependent on imports from places like Russia and the middle east.”

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